- The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE) spent nearly $300,000 last year funding emissions-heavy international “study trips” for California legislators to learn about “climate change policies” and green technology, according to an investigation by nonprofit CalMatters.
- While the group did not disclose the exact nature of the flights taken, a typical round-trip business-class flight from Sacramento, California, to Tokyo, Japan, would emit the equivalent of burning more than 3,800 pounds of coal per passenger, according to data from the International Air Transportation Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Wyatt Lundy, CFEE senior director of research and operations, in late November told Waste Advantage that the organization tracked “dozens of bills” either “directly generated” from or influenced by events organized by the foundation.
The California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE) — a major regional environmental policy group — spent nearly $300,000 funding emissions-laden international flights for California legislators to attend “study trips” on “climate change policies” and green technology in 2022, according to nonprofit journalism outlet CalMatters.
The CFEE — which positions itself as a non-partisan group that advocates for a “net zero carbon future” – sponsored airfare for visits to Japan and Iceland for 18 California state legislators in 2022 to study climate change issues and green technologies like offshore wind, carbon capture and fuel cells, CalMatters reported Tuesday. While the group did not disclose the exact nature of the flights taken, a typical round-trip business-class flight from Sacramento, California, to Tokyo, Japan, would emit roughly 3,400 kg of CO2 emissions per passenger, according to the International Air Transportation Association, the equivalent of burning more than 3,800 pounds of coal or more than 75% of a typical passenger car’s yearly emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (RELATED: California Votes To Ban New Diesel Trucks After 2036)
Wyatt Lundy, CFEE senior director of research and operations, in late November told Waste Advantage that the organization tracked “dozens of bills” either “directly generated” from or influenced by events organized by the foundation. CFEE did not share with CalMatters which legislation in particular it believed to be influenced by these trips.
CFEE board members also attend these events, traveling and dining with legislators, with the two groups engaging in “deep policy discussions” and “debates”, CalMatters reported, citing interviews with attendees. Despite this, the organization’s president and CEO, Jay Hansen, insisted that the trips were not designed to “craft legislation.”
These trips are funded by the tens of thousands in membership fees paid by the foundation’s 92 board members — which includes executives from environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy, oil giants like Chevron, labor groups like the California Plumbing & Mechanical Contractors Association and tech giants like AT&T and Google — according to CalMatters.
So what’s the big take away from riding now 15yr old N700 & mtg with Japan’s experts? Plain/simple we have to keep pushing aggressively. Their 1st #HSR launched in 1964! Funding & regulatory enviro will continue to be critical for us. Txs @_CFEE_ @JRCentral_OFL @CaHSRA @USHSR https://t.co/7MbnM35efS pic.twitter.com/JXvDZdPUbV
— Toks Omishakin (@ToksOmishakin) November 17, 2022
“CFEE does not create public policy; we do not craft bills or get involved in legislative debates in or outside of the Capitol,” Hansen told CalMatters. “We hope that our work will lead to specific policy advances — but the process of making legislation will be a matter taken up by legislators.”
CFEE communications director P.J. Johnston did not provide a direct answer when asked to explain this apparent contradiction by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Established in 1979, the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE) is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization that brings together leadership from the the private sector, labor, environmental, local government, and small business communities with elected and appointed officials to facilitate non-partisan, substantive, and productive dialogue that moves policy on fundamental environmental and economic issues in California,” said Johnston. “We are non-partisan, pass along no costs to the taxpayers, and, while we believe critical environmental issues require research and study, we do not advocate for any one particular solution over another.”
Several California state lawmakers, including Republican Asm. Devon Mathis, Democratic Asm. Laura Friedman and Democratic Sen. Lena Gonzalez told CalMatters that CFEE-sponsored trips they had taken inspired or contributed to legislation they had drafted in the past two years. Mathis defended attending these events by saying that they allowed lawmakers to escape the political “bubble” of Sacramento, and engage in complex policy discussions with experts before they introduce legislation.
“It’s not like you’re going and they have this secret agenda that they’re going to brainwash you on,” said Mathis. “If you want to attack me for being part of the discussion, how stupid is that? You don’t want your legislator to be part of the discussion?”
However, Sean McMorris of public interest nonprofit California Common Cause, raised concerns with CalMatters that these trips could ultimately serve advocates’ interests by building relationships with lawmakers, even if specific bills are not discussed.
“If a friend comes to you and asks for help, you’re much more inclined to help them than a stranger,” McMorris told the outlet. “So now when you do want to sit down and ask for a favor from this politician, they’re under no obligation to do the favor for you. But it’s human nature, I think, for most of us to seriously listen to someone who is a friend or an acquaintance.”
Including domestic trips, CFEE sponsored $375,000 worth of travel for California legislators in 2022, roughly 40% of the nearly $1 million spent by all sponsors, according to CalMatters. The only other organization to spend more than $50,000 was the California Jewish Legislative Caucus Leadership Foundation, which spent $213,000.
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